Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Living Out of a Suitcase

Or Living Away From Home to be a Carer

Calamity Jane – or CJ as she is affectionately known as – is no stranger to illness. You only have to scroll through the archives of her blog a little to realise that she has to endure more than most, simply to stay alive. But since New Years Eve when her 73 year old father was taken into hospital suffering from Pneumonia, she has been living out of a bag at her parent’s home, to take care of her 76 year old mother who is suffering from Dementia.

Once again, services are sadly lacking, and although CJ’s mother has been referred for emergency respite, it will be a couple of days before social services will even get back to them about it. Of course, that’s a couple of days from today – the first day that CJ has even been able to contact these services – as like many other essential social services, they have been closed for the holidays. Apparently people don’t get sick or have accidents at this time of year, and elderly ones don’t need extra care despite the fact that the weather is prone to being colder, damper, and hazardously icy.

I strongly recommend that you read CJ’s account here.

Reading this account brought back many memories of when my Nan was alive. For about 4 years before she died she needed care. For most of that time she was cared for by my eldest brother. Later, it was either my Mum or one of her sisters. Whenever I went to visit my Nan I would be greeted by the sight of underwear drying on the radiator, belonging to whoever was living there out of a bag at that particular time. “Wash one, wear one” seemed to be the order of the day!

It’s incredibly unsettling for a person to live like that for any length of time. It’s no wonder holidays are listed quite highly as a stressor and yet the purpose of those is to relax! So imagine how it feels to go away from home, to live out of a bag, and to take on the responsibility of caring for a sick relative – and to not know how long for.

The carer may now be responsible for running two homes. Responsibilities at home may have to be delegated for a while. Money matters are especially difficult to deal with whilst one is away from home, and it may be necessary for the carer to return home regularly to open post and deal with other matters. But who will care for the sick one whilst they do this? And what about work? How many employers would allow a person to take indefinite leave and keep the job open for them? And what do you do for money in the meantime? Also, spouses and other family members can become neglected – my Mum had 3 teenagers still living at home, and 2 of them were still in school, when she had to leave home to care for my Nan for weeks at a time. Obviously this heightened her anxiety, but what else can you do when you have a sick parent that needs caring for?

There’s no doubt about it – as hard as being a carer can be, nothing can be harder than being a carer away from home.